Oxley Road: PM Lee Hsien Loong waives legal immunity for speeches

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his speech in Parliament on July 4, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers his speech in Parliament on July 4, 2017.PHOTO: PARLIAMENT HOUSE OF SINGAPORE

This means he can be sued for what he said in Parliament regarding Oxley Road dispute

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong waived his right to legal immunity yesterday for his speeches in Parliament on the Oxley Road house dispute, making good on a promise he made during the two-day debate.

He released his speeches as statements on the Prime Minister's Office website last night, along with some handouts he had distributed to MPs during the sitting.

This means he can be sued for libel for what he said about the dispute involving him and his two siblings over their late father's house at 38, Oxley Road.

In a note accompanying the statements, he said: "As I stated I would do in my ministerial statement on July 3, 2017, I am reproducing the speech that I made in Parliament here as a statement made by me outside of Parliament, which is not covered by parliamentary privilege."

The sitting this week had been dismissed by his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, and brother, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who said "only his side of the story will air, with no promise of truthfulness due to parliamentary privilege".

Words spoken in Parliament are privileged to let MPs speak freely without fear of being sued.

PM Lee had said on Monday at the start of his ministerial statement that he would stand by whatever he was going to say. Earlier, he also called on MPs from both sides of the House to grill him, and asked for the People's Action Party Whip to be lifted.

Wrapping up the debate on Tuesday, he said his siblings' accusations about his abuse of power had been rebutted, noting neither they nor any MP had brought up evidence to back the claims.

But it did not put a stop to the bitter row. Last night, Mr Lee Hsien Yang repeated his charge that PM Lee had misused his position and influence over the Government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda.

 
 

The family feud had spilled into public view on June 14 when the two siblings posted statements on their Facebook pages to denounce their elder brother for trying to block the demolition of their late father's house against his wish.

They believed their father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, wanted the house demolished without compromise, but PM Lee was of the view that Mr Lee was prepared to consider alternatives should the Government decide otherwise.

At the sitting, he cited old correspondence to show Mr Lee's shift in thinking over time.

These letters, which were among the documents released yesterday, were written by the late Mr Lee to the Cabinet between Oct 27, 2010, and Dec 27, 2011.

In the first two letters, he asked the Cabinet to respect his wish for his house to be demolished.

But in the last letter, written after a July 2011 meeting with the Cabinet, he said: "Cabinet members were unanimous that 38, Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38, Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay."

Among the other documents PM Lee released were an authorisation letter dated March 28, 2012, signed by Mr Lee, for his house to be redeveloped, and a written permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) dated April 17 the same year.

There were also family e-mails showing that PM Lee's wife, Ms Ho Ching, had kept the family informed of the plans for the house.

In an e-mail with the subject "Oxley renewal concept", sent on Jan 2, 2012, Ms Ho described the various redevelopment options proposed by architect Mok Wei Wei, who was introduced to the family by Mr Lee Hsien Yang.

She also said that if there were objections to renting out the house after it was renovated, the family could move in, with Dr Lee taking a big bedroom, PM Lee and herself taking the other big bedroom, and their son Yipeng taking one of the smaller bedrooms.

The e-mail, addressed to Dr Lee, was also sent to Mr Lee, PM Lee, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern.

Another e-mail, dated April 30, 2012, was sent by Mr Lee to Ms Ho.

He acknowledged her e-mail on the same day, in which she informed him the URA had given permission for the redevelopment and that it had a sealed letter, marked secret, for him.

She had also asked him to let her know if he needed her to follow up on the URA letter. Mr Lee said there was nothing to follow up and that he would send her the written permission.

He also sent his acknowledgement e-mail to PM Lee, Dr Lee, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 06, 2017, with the headline 'PM Lee waives legal immunity for speeches'. Print Edition | Subscribe